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Reality As Failed State
July 29, 2011 10:27 AM   Subscribe

Reality As Failed State via Bruce Sterling
In these terms, the denier’s retreat from consensus reality approximates the role of the cellular insurgents in Afghanistan vis-a-vis the American occupying force: this overarching behemoth I rebel against may well represent something larger, more free, more wealthy, more democratic, or more in touch with objective reality, but it has been imposed upon me (or I feel it has), so I am going to withdraw from it into illogic, emotion and superstition and from there I am going to declare war upon it.

So, from this point of view, we can meaningfully refer to deniers, birthers, Tea Partiers and so forth as "reality insurgents", and thus usefully apply the principles of 4GW to their activities – notably, they are clearly operating on a faster OODA loop than the defenders of mainstream reality, and thus able to respond more quickly, with greater innovation, than the sclerotic bureaucracy of institutionalised reality.
glossary: insurgency, OODA loop, failed state
posted by artlung (39 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
I believe part of the meta-problem is this: people no longer inhabit a single reality.

when did they ever?
posted by Bwithh at 10:33 AM on July 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


MetaFilter: If only everyone else could be exposed to the same data, there would be instant consensus for change.
posted by Zozo at 10:34 AM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


"GOVERNMENT IS BAD."

vs

"Government is an enormously complex amalgamation of both good and bad elements that attempts to reflect the will of hundreds of millions of people and their complex and often contradictory sets of moral, philosophical, and financial points-of-view -- and which requires a fair amount of study to even begin to understand."

Only one of these fits on a bumper sticker or in a cable news soundbite. Only one of these will get shouted at a rally.
posted by chasing at 10:36 AM on July 29, 2011 [17 favorites]


Inhabiting different realities is a feature, not a bug.

*Even if* the other group is illogical (on some topics) the diversity is valuable. And I don't mean that in a "let's all get along" way. I mean it in a scientific way. Homogeneity is a recipe for disaster. Look at the Irish potato famine or computer viruses. When everything is identical, it is all vulnerable to the same weaknesses.

I've been thinking about this recently wrt scientific progress. When West met East in the Middle Ages, there was a great flowering because they'd been on separate tracks for so long that they had completely separate mindsets and paradigms. Now that we all agree the Earth goes around the Sun and so forth, what paradigms are we missing out on discovering due to misconceptions in other areas?
posted by DU at 10:38 AM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Bwithh, I remember distinctly when there were 3 tv channels and a major newspaper and for all intents and purposes that reality was a pretty shared one.
posted by artlung at 10:39 AM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


DU: "Inhabiting different realities is a feature, not a bug." I agree completely. This essay seems not to pine for a unified reality, but rather to acknowledge the difficulty in, say, agreeing on how to take care of the health of a nation when there are insurgent parts.
posted by artlung at 10:44 AM on July 29, 2011


when did they ever?

Right. In many ways people worldwide are in closer contact with each other than we've ever been. In the course of five minutes, a few clicks showed me how an atheist biologist and a half a dozen pagans see the world (not the same site). Sterling is right that it's easy to get stuck in an epistemically closed bubble that makes whole groups of other people incomprehensible, but it's now possible to break out of that bubble in any direction, and people do. It can happen by accident.

The first and most serious barrier to discourse is simply becoming aware that another person's viewpoint exists.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 10:46 AM on July 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


When West met East in the Middle Ages, there was a great flowering because they'd been on separate tracks for so long that they had completely separate mindsets and paradigms. Now that we all agree the Earth goes around the Sun and so forth, what paradigms are we missing out on discovering due to misconceptions in other areas?

There are fruitful inter-cultural discussions in matters of mind, cognition, the self, etc, in which Western science and Eastern Philosophy seem to be getting along just fine.

The Mind and Life Institute, etc, etc, etc

That said, diversity is healthy in any complex ecosystem.
posted by stonepharisee at 10:49 AM on July 29, 2011


Note: the link was found via Bruce Sterling, it was not written by Bruce Sterling. I don't know anything about the author other than that he or she is blogging at http://steelweaver.tumblr.com/
posted by artlung at 10:50 AM on July 29, 2011


"Grand strategy, according to Boyd, is a quest to isolate your enemy's (a nation-state or a global terrorist network) thinking processes from connections to the external/reference environment. This process of isolation is essentially the imposition of insanity on a group. To wit: any organism that operates without reference to external stimuli (the real world), falls into a destructive cycle of false internal dialogues. These corrupt internal dialogues eventually cause dissolution and defeat."

*

"According to a new study by scientists at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the answer is 10%. Once 10% of a population is committed to an idea, it’s inevitable that it will eventually become the prevailing opinion of the entire group. The key is to remain committed."
via Freako
posted by dragonsi55 at 10:52 AM on July 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


“In these terms, the denier’s retreat from consensus reality approximates the role of the cellular insurgents in Afghanistan vis-a-vis the American occupying force: this overarching behemoth I rebel against may well represent something larger, more free, more wealthy, more democratic, or more in touch with objective reality, but it has been imposed upon me (or I feel it has), so I am going to withdraw from it into illogic, emotion and superstition and from there I am going to declare war upon it.

“So, from this point of view, we can meaningfully refer to deniers, birthers, Tea Partiers and so forth as “reality insurgents”


I propose a "truth and awe" campaign against these dangerous reality terrorists, consisting of "smart bombs" dropped by "fact drones".
posted by T.D. Strange at 10:53 AM on July 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


Fourth generation warfare is a trope dreamed up by people who want to inflate the threat posed by al-Qaeda and its ilk.
posted by squorch at 10:55 AM on July 29, 2011


...this overarching behemoth I rebel against may well represent something larger, more free, more wealthy, more democratic, or more in touch with objective reality, but it has been imposed upon me (or I feel it has), so I am going to withdraw from it into illogic, emotion and superstition and from there I am going to declare war upon it.

As a Canadian, I've got to say I feel some sympathy with this sentiment. Until recently at least though, I'd have said that as a nation we withdrew into peace, order, and good government, and instead of declaring war, we just feel contempt and maybe shake our heads or make snide remarks sometimes.
posted by stinkycheese at 10:57 AM on July 29, 2011


Tropes are ideas, squorch. Think of "4GW" as a lens. Call it insurgency if that makes you feel better.

Criticisms of 4GW as a concept:
Writer Antulio J. Echevarria II in an article Fourth-Generation War and Other Myths[4] argues what is being called fourth generation warfare are simply insurgencies. He also claims that 4GW was "reinvented" by Lind to create the appearance of having predicted the future. Echevarria writes: “the generational model is an ineffective way to depict changes in warfare. Simple displacement rarely takes place, significant developments typically occur in parallel."
Our realities are colliding!
posted by artlung at 10:58 AM on July 29, 2011


Yeah I was thinking about this with the Norway Shooter. Lots of people are calling him "crazy" but is he? From his perspective his views are the same as the views of everyone he interacts with. He had like 7k friends on facebook. From his perspective his views are consensus reality. From his perspective he is just a soldier in a war on behalf of his fellow White, Christian, Europeans.

The problem, though, is that 'mainstream' thought is just as capable of being wrong as fringe thought. During the run-up to the Iraq war, 'mainstream' thought was that there were WMD, despite clear evidence that there were not. Lots of people believed a conspiracy theory about Saddam being behind 9/11.

If you develop some way to control fringe thought, you run the risk of stamping out actual truth in favor of false but 'mainstream' views. I think this would be more dangerous then the problem of false fringe beliefs.
posted by delmoi at 10:58 AM on July 29, 2011 [6 favorites]


I don't think the idea is to stamp out other ways of thinking. I think the idea is to find common ground. Example: universal health care as a goal.

I may simply be for it for the US. That the Constitution says the idea is to promote the general welfare, and we can seek universal health care on that basis.

For someone else: hey, healthcare is simply infrastructure - we need it the same way we need roads, clean water, a system of laws to settle disagreements - we need this system so that we can let business make jobs.

Different arguments for different realities.
posted by artlung at 11:04 AM on July 29, 2011


Anyone interested in the OODA Loop in particular or Col. John Boyd in general owes it to themselves to read Science, Strategy and War. The wikipedia article is rather paltry.
posted by adamdschneider at 11:07 AM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


The problem is a cognitive bias embedded extremely deep in human nature. One of the most basic facts of social relationships among humans is that we divide other people into concentric circles of ingroups and outgroups. Solidarity must be constantly maintained and reinforced among the ingroup, and collective strength and resolution displayed to members of the outgroup so they know not to fuck with us, and ideally will do what we want.

For most people and in most circumstances, beliefs about the nature of reality function primarily as a way of enforcing this solidarity and displaying this collective resolution, and only secondarily at best as a model that should be tested and revised as evidence contradicts it.

The Tea Party and birthers and so on are a particularly distressing manifestation of this phenomenon, but it's so engrained in the way the mind works that almost everybody is subject to it, and it can constantly be seen to show itself in every sphere of human endeavor. Supposedly objective disciplines like science are equally vulnerable to it, though they may have somewhat more developed ways of testing against the bias.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 11:34 AM on July 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


Bwithh, I remember distinctly when there were 3 tv channels and a major newspaper and for all intents and purposes that reality was a pretty shared one.

but it wasn't a reality - it was a simulacrum of a reality - yes, it was fairly close if you were white and middle class - but other people's realities were quite different and not in the sense that they believed different things, but actually experienced different things

by 1969, the reality dissidents were quite common
posted by pyramid termite at 11:36 AM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Who appointed this person Reality Czar? He can "meaningfully refer" to people he doesn't like or understand any way he likes, and I will meaningfully refer to him as an asshole.

"'Reality' is the temporary resultant of continuous struggles between rival gangs of programmers." - Robert Anton Wilson
posted by thescientificmethhead at 11:43 AM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


but it wasn't a reality - it was a simulacrum of a reality

absolutely. but it also allowed the country to do things like build the Interstate Highway system.

I think we've (the US) flown apart to an extent that we can't in the large, do anything significant that might need doing. Like, say, have universal health care, or rational foreign policy.
posted by artlung at 11:50 AM on July 29, 2011


absolutely. but it also allowed the country to do things like build the Interstate Highway system.
The interstate highway system got built because the rich and powerful (who were not as rich and powerful as they are today) thought it would make them more money, so they were for it. GM and ford had been pushing the idea for decades. "Build roads so the people we sell cars too can drive on them."

But Healthcare doesn't help the rich and powerful, it hurts those who work in the Healthcare industry, bu lowering their economic rents. Highspeed rail might make people's lives more convenient, but it won't make the already rich any richer. In fact, it will require tax hikes, which the rich don't want.

It has nothing to do with a misunderstanding of reality, and everything to do that, given reality as it actually is, those things will negatively impact some people who currently wield a disproportionate amount of power.
posted by delmoi at 12:27 PM on July 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


There is one sane method of exposing people to similar data when making decisions, Zozo, namely Deliberative democracy.

You might for example replace the president's veto by instead holding a large jury trial, say 200+ jurors. Jurors are randomly selected from the voting population. You avoid jury selection by using a jury large enough for statistical significance all by itself.

The president and any 5% of the legislature may send an advocate to argue for, against, or for modifying the law. Independent public interest groups may apply to send advocates with very limited time. Also, the president has the right to deliver speech if she so chooses. All the resulting debates are public video & text records that heavily influence the courts interpretation of the law.

As I understand it, there is a significant shift towards the 'non-stupid position' after people witness a debate, meaning you get less stupid laws. You can also more easily cut 'pork barrel' spending by approving the law with said items removed and returning it to congress. Your courts are forced to read the law more the way the jurors understood it. The laws themselves are more legitimate all around. And your junior politicians build a name form themselves by working as advocates trying to communicate detailed issues with ordinary people.
posted by jeffburdges at 12:27 PM on July 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


So maybe what we have today are not problems, but meta-problems.

I've been having meta-problems ever since I started going to meetups.
posted by Jon_Evil at 2:04 PM on July 29, 2011


I'm buying the Deliberative Democracy thing - where do we sign up?

It would be cool if people ("we"?) could convince one jurisdiction in the world to convert to a deliberative government for a year. Maybe ten years. It would be a grand experiment - we'd supply the computers and network infrastructure (or whatever) to make it work, and they would commit to making most or all of their decisions this way. We'd watch their progress on DD-Span, and learn from it. Then, at the end, we'd buy every man, woman and child and ice cream and thank them for their participation.

Sort of like NASA, we'd try to land man on a new political planet. And we'd all benefit from the the technology spin-offs!

Or it could all just be a pipe-dream because Delmoi's disproportionate power-wielders wouldn't allow it.
posted by sneebler at 2:07 PM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Prof. Christian List (LSE) has some interesting articles on Deliberative Democracy.

Another interesting question : How do you run a corporation by deliberative polls? You might require that randomly selecting representative groups of stockholders view outside opinions and submit comments on votes proposed by the board or something.
posted by jeffburdges at 2:17 PM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


"It is accepted as democratic when public offices are allocated by lot; and as oligarchic when they are filled by election."
- Aristotle
posted by dragonsi55 at 2:26 PM on July 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


This pretty much says the same thing as Bill Rees has been saying for a couple years now in his post-rationalist critique of environmental advocacy. I can't find anything in print right now, but to paraphrase, the failures of rational, scientific accounts to convince even a majority of the population that global warming is a serious issue is representative of a greater trend whereby media proliferation is strengthening psychological phenomenon such as system justification. As a species, we are not acting rationally; in fact we are less rational than ever, and becoming increasingly less so. For progressive activism to survive, it must recognize this obstacle and find ways of working around it.

I think the military theory lens is extremely useful in strategizing, here. If the reality insurgents are 4GW, we better go to 5...
posted by mek at 2:42 PM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is part of the reason why voting is always such a let down - you mark your piece of paper and walk out and feel cheated, somehow, of the promised connection with the Other world.

Is it any wonder that we don’t, really, expect anything to ever come of the political process?


I'm more curious as to where he/we got the idea that voting is the entirety of the political process.
posted by benito.strauss at 3:27 PM on July 29, 2011


Note to self: Stream-of-consciousness doesn't work for expository writing.

tl;dr(er) - Trying to argue with delusional people only forces you to step into their world, so don't bother.
posted by pla at 3:37 PM on July 29, 2011


I think Bruce picked up on the Postmodernist thing a little too late.
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:06 PM on July 29, 2011


Eh screw reality. That's where I'm a mortal fuckup.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 7:12 PM on July 29, 2011


Inhabiting different realities is a feature, not a bug.

Usually, yes. But when one of those reality tunnels is so severely twisted that realizing it WILL lead to the impoverishment of more and more, to the poisoning of the planet, to the end of education for anything more than utilitarian ends, and eventually to annihiliation of the better part of the race, then NO... THIS AGGRESSION SHALL NOT STAND.
posted by Twang at 8:38 PM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


There is a degree to which a "reality failure" can only be handled though healthy competition.

Imagine the U.S. 'reassigned' Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, etc. to the states, the associated tax collection, 'entitlement' payments, everything. Yes, we'd immediately see considerably suffering through medicaid cuts, but the sane states would quickly pass single payer health care too.

We needed centralization for the fight against communism, the civil rights movement, etc., but, as any gay rights activist can tell you, we ain't seeing much progress nowadays. It might be time for an approach to "states rights" that nukes the economic viability of the states run by idiots.
posted by jeffburdges at 10:10 PM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


best summarized by the immortal words of adam savage:

"i reject your reality, and substitute my own."
posted by RTQP at 12:51 AM on July 30, 2011


Imagine the U.S. 'reassigned' Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, etc. to the states

It might look a bit more like the European Union, which is great if you're Germany and less good if you're Greece. But then, the people of Greece and the people of Germany get to decide their own cultures and economics. So that's not necessarily a bad thing on the whole, although poor Greeks end up worse off.

Also doesn't handle international issues, like the global oil supply and global warming and nuclear non-proliferation. But I like the general cut of your jib...
posted by alasdair at 5:22 AM on July 30, 2011


jeffburdges : Imagine the U.S. 'reassigned' Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, etc. to the states, the associated tax collection, 'entitlement' payments, everything. Yes, we'd immediately see considerably suffering through medicaid cuts, but the sane states would quickly pass single payer health care too.

Ahh, don't tease me with such visions of Utopia this early on a Saturday morning. :)

Anyway... Let's run with this. Yes, some states would do exactly what you say (some already have, to a large degree). And you would, as you do now, have the option to move to one of those states. On the flip side of that - Have you ever heard of the Free State Project? Not every group of like-minded people automatically revert to a socialist paradise.

No question about it, I would LOVE to see the US form a patchwork of states with diverse social and economic policies, the realization of the great Laboratory Of Democracy envisioned by the founding fathers and one of the main reasons we originally had a relatively weak Federal government.

The bleeding hearts could all live together and sing Kumba-ya, the Christians could all live somewhere and deny evolution and climate change and teh gay, the Socialists could all live together and fight for the (local) proles, the Libertarians could all live in the same general political delineation and enjoy their separate micro-kingdoms within the state, the immigrant advocates could give all the illegals free educations and healthcare (oh, hi, CA, how's that budget look?), and so on.

Now, I already hinted at the problem with the all of that - Most of the money forcibly extracted from us by the government goes to pay for the crap you mention at the Federal, not state, level. So great, we can currently save 5-10% by moving, but still lose 25-35% right off the top (and that doesn't even include the taxes on the employer rather than the employee).

If you shut off that giant financial siphon, we could actually choose which type of society we prefer. As it stands now, we all have the same pot of porridge, and whether you consider it too hot or too cold doesn't make a damned bit of difference.


We needed centralization for the fight against communism

Uhhh... What?
posted by pla at 5:44 AM on July 30, 2011


We still might see SCOTUS legalized gay marriage nationally in 20 years or so, pla, which might still happen.

I considered merely giving the states more economic self determination when doing so might 'give them enough rope to hang themselves'. In particular, we'd need to raise federal taxes considerably, or cut our defense spending, if we pulled social security from the federal general pool.

There was an enormous cultural component to the cold war, btw.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:40 AM on July 30, 2011


The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''
posted by homunculus at 1:12 PM on July 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


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